Online solicitation of a minor to perform a sexual act is a criminal offense in Texas. In the Houston area, the crime of online solicitation of a minor is frequently charged after law enforcement agents engage in a sting operation. Solicitation of a minor occurs when someone intentionally or knowingly communicates certain sexual content to a minor or solicits a minor to perform sexual acts over the internet. Police officers or other investigators pose as teenagers on internet platforms and try to entice adults to solicit sex from minors.
Discuss Your Case With a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer
Solicitation of a minor is a serious criminal charge that carries significant jail time. If you’ve been charged with the criminal offense of online solicitation of a minor, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. You face serious penalties, including jail time and other negative consequences that could impact your housing, employment, and personal life. Contact Ceja Law Firm PLLC today to schedule an initial consultation.
There are two main ways that online solicitation can be committed:
- Under Texas Penal Code 33.021(b) an offense is committed where an adult communicates with a minor in a sexually explicit manner or distributes explicit material by electronic means with the intent to commit a specific crime such sexual assault, indecency, promotion of prostitution, or other offenses.
- Under Texas Penal Code 33.021(c) an offense is committed if an adult knowingly solicits a minor to meet another person (including the adult himself) by electronic means with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact of some kind.
An offense under (b) is a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to ten years in prison. However, if the State proves that a person charged believed the minor to be younger than 14, then (b) is a second-degree felony, punishable by up two 20 years in prison. Offenses charged under (c) are second-degree felonies, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Persons convicted under (b) or (c) are required to register as a sex offender.
These statutes make it illegal for someone age 17 or older to communicate in a sexually explicit manner or distribute sexually explicit material to a minor over the internet with the intent to commit certain types of sexual acts. Communicating sexually explicit material with a minor is prohibited through email, text messages, a commercial online service, or any other electronic message service or system.
This criminal code section was recently amended after a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined that it was unconstitutional. The court was concerned with the defendant’s First Amendment right to free speech. The legislature amended the law to require the prosecution to prove the defendant had the intent to commit any of the following offenses:
- indecency with a child
- sexual assault
- aggravated sexual assault
- continuous sexual abuse of a child or children
- prohibited sexual conduct
- compelling prostitution
- sexual performance by a child
- possession or promotion of child pornography
- trafficking of persons
If you face solicitation charges due to a message or messages you sent a minor on the internet, this amendment will help protect your rights. The prosecutor needs to prove that you sent a minor a sexually explicit electronic communication with the intent to commit one of the crimes listed above. If the prosecution cannot prove that you intended to commit one of these crimes, he or she will not be able to secure a conviction.
Soliciting a Minor to Engage in Sexual Behavior
The second type of illegal solicitation of a minor involves soliciting a minor to engage in a sexual act. To secure a conviction for solicitation of a sexual act, prosecutors must prove that the defendant:
- knowingly solicited a minor
- to meet another person, including himself or herself
- with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviant sexual intercourse with the actor or another person
Can a Minor Be Charged with Online Solicitation of a Minor?
Under Texas law, a person 17 or older can be charged with sending explicit sexual messages to a minor. However, the second type of online solicitation does not state an age limit. Presumably, a person of any age could be charged with soliciting a minor to engage in sexual acts online. As a result, a minor who may not be charged for sending sexually explicit material could be charged for attempting to solicit a sexual act online.
Penalties for Online Solicitation of a Minor
Sending sexually explicit messages to a minor online is a third-degree felony in Texas. If the minor is 14 or younger, or the defendant believed the minor to be 14 or under, the penalty will be enhanced to a second-degree felony. Second-degree felonies are punishable by a prison sentence between 2 and 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
The penalty for soliciting a minor to engage in sexual behavior is a third-degree felony in Texas. Third-degree felonies are punishable by a prison sentence between 2 and 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
When a defendant is convicted of online solicitation of a minor, even if he or she pleads guilty or no contest, the defendant will be required to register as a sex offender. Even if the defendant enters a deferred adjudication plea bargain, he or she must register as a sex offender.
Defenses to Online Solicitation Charges
The sooner you speak to a lawyer about the charges you’re facing, the more time your lawyer will be able to prepare an effective defense strategy. There are several different defenses your lawyer can make, depending on the facts of your case. If you’ve been charged with soliciting a minor to meet you and engaging in a sexual act, you can defend yourself by proving you didn’t intend for the meeting to occur. You can also claim that the meeting never actually occurred or that you were simply engaged in a fantasy at the time of the alleged offense.
If the minor involved was less than three years younger than the defendant and the minor consented to it, the prosecution cannot convict the defendant. Proving consent is a complex process, and you will need to work closely with your criminal defense lawyer on this issue. If a law enforcement officer posing as a minor, the defendant may be able to raise an entrapment defense. Entrapment is a complicated legal concept but usually occurs when a law enforcement official entraps a person to commit a crime that they wouldn’t otherwise commit.
Consult With a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer
Your freedom, finances, and future are all at stake when facing criminal charges involving a minor. At Ceja Law Firm PLLC, we will provide you with the type of assertive legal representation you need and deserve. Whether you’ve been charged with online solicitation or you suspect you’re being investigated, we can help. Contact our Houston criminal defense firm today to schedule your initial consultation. Attorney Jose ceja defends online solicitation cases throughout the Houston area, including Harris County, Chambers County, Fort Bend County, Brazoria County and Montgomery County.